And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews…
Of the man thus described by John we know but little. His birthplace, or family seat, was Arimathaea; his rank among the Jews was of the highest, for he was a member of the national council, or Sanhedrin. His wealth is mentioned, and accounts for his possession of land, and for the provision by him of costly spices to be used in our Lord's interment. His moral character is summed up in the description of him as "good and just." As he comes before us in connection with the closing scene of our Savior's humiliation, he combines opposite elements of disposition; for he is represented as timid and standing in dread of the Jews, and yet so bold as to go to Pilate and to beg of the governor the body of the crucified Jesus. The office of committing the body to the tomb was discharged by Nicodemus, also a ruler of the Jews, and also apparently a secret disciple, and by this Joseph, who offered for the purpose the place of sepulture which he owned, and evidently designed for the use of himself and his family. Joseph of Arimathaea may be taken as a representative of the secret disciple. Circumstances vary with times, but the disposition here exemplified still exists.
I. THERE ARE VARIOUS CAUSES WHICH ACCOUNT FOR SECRECY IN CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. It is natural and proper that the beginnings of conscious discipleship should be hidden. When the seed begins to germinate, to put forth the signs and the promise of life, it remains hidden beneath the surface of the soil unseen by any eye. And when a young heart in its yearnings, or a penitent heart in its mingled regrets and hopes, turns to the Lord Jesus, as to a Divine Friend and mighty Savior, the change is unknown, unheeded by the observer. The time comes when the plant appears above the ground; and the time comes when the tokens of spiritual life in a changed character, disposition, and habits are unmistakable. But there is a time for secrecy, and there is a time for publicity.
2. There are those who keep secret their interest in Christian truth, their affection for Christ himself, through a trembling reverence for spiritual and Divine things. Doubtless many are sincere in the public shouts and songs, by which their boisterous natures boast of new-found light and liberty. But many gentle, timid, and refined spirits are equally sincere and devout in their reserve. Men and women there are like her who "kept and treasured these things in her heart." A time there is in Christian experience when feeling is too sacred to be professed.
3. Distrust of self, and an awed sense of responsibility, account for the backwardness of many sincere disciples to avow their faith and love. What if they should profess to be Christ's, and then afterwards should prove ashamed of him, or should discredit him by any want of loyalty? The very fear lest this should be so leads to reticence and silence.
4. An inferior motive has to be considered, viz. the fear of man. Some, especially among the young, fear the opposition or the ridicule or the reproach of their fellow-men. Such was the case with Joseph, who feared the Jews - dreaded lest he should, like Jesus, be persecuted, or lest he should be despised and hated. A member of a distinguished and privileged class is peculiarly sensitive to the coldness, the contempt, or the ridicule of those whose opinion makes the public opinion which has most influence over him.
II. THERE IS MISCHIEF WROUGHT BY SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. When those who love Christ, and make it their aim to serve him, conceal their attachment and their pious resolution, whether through timidity or distrust, harm follows.
1. The disciple who withholds or delays his open confession of the Savior, by so doing thwarts his own religious progress and happiness. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." The very attitude of bold and public acknowledgment of faith in the Lord Jesus is a means of spiritual confirmation and improvement. For such an attitude is the natural expression of faith, and attracts the countenance and sympathy of those who are like-minded.
2. The withholding of a confession of Christ is disobedience to Christ and to his Spirit. If we learn of him, we are bound to obey him. And be has bidden us take up our cross and follow him. He has bidden us observe the Lord's Supper in memory of his death. It is not honoring Christ to delay, without sufficient reason, such an avowal of our faith in him as his own Word justifies, and indeed requires.
3. Secrecy of discipleship is discouraging to the Church of Christ. That Church has many enemies; it has need of all its friends. It weakens the forces of the spiritual host when those who should fall into the ranks stand aloof. There is a sense in which those who are not with Christ are against him.
4. The world is confirmed in error and unbelief when there is a disinclination on the part of Christians openly to avow themselves what they really are. It is natural enough for the world to interpret such conduct as indicating a want of heartiness and thoroughness in discipleship. Men ask whether those who stand outside are not in the same position as those who go up to the door, but do not enter in.
III. THERE ARE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY PROTECT AGAINST THE TEMPTATION TO CONCEAL CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. The greatness of the Master to whom we owe allegiance. Christ is so great that none need feel any shame in belonging to him; such a relation is the highest honor accessible to man. Christ is so great that none need feel any fear in openly avowing loyalty to him. None is so well able as the "Lord of all" to protect and deliver those who adhere to him.
2. It should be remembered by those who are in doubt whether or not to confess Christ, that a day is coming in which the real position of all men with regard to the Divine Redeemer must be made manifest. Of those who are ashamed of him before men the Lord Jesus will be ashamed in the judgment before his Father and the holy angels. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
WEB: After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore and took away his body.